Mar 12, 2024 - Axios Events

Axios House at SXSW 2024: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Shaping the Circular Economy

Attendees enjoyed dinner during the discussion: Credit: Cori Baker on behalf of Axios.

Attendees enjoyed dinner during the discussion: Credit: Cori Baker on behalf of Axios.

Axios hosted an Expert Voices roundtable discussion event at SXSW convening an intimate group of sustainability leaders for a conversation looking at their long-term strategies and approaches to recycling, the circular economy and waste reduction. Axios senior business reporter Hope King and Austin reporter Asher Price led the conversation.

Why it matters: At a time when sustainability and ESG-related goals and initiatives are both top of mind and facing criticism, the circular economy is gaining momentum as a way for companies and governments to reduce waste and reuse already existing materials.

What they're saying: Attendees shared that despite the recent political backlash around corporate ESG guidelines, companies are prioritizing sustainability and circularity in their business strategies, supply chains and manufacturing processes to respond to the environmental challenges posed by material scarcity and climate change.

  • Haley Lowry, Dow global sustainability director: "It has not changed anything that we're doing as a company, it hasn't changed the investment strategy that we have to build our decarbonization and our circularity efforts, and frankly we call that all sustainability. So it's really a politicized nomenclature in the U.S. right now that is not around the rest of the world."
  • Keefe Harrison, The Recycling Partnership CEO: "I think in the decade that we've been around there's a big shift where what you're talking about is the economic pressure of the next quarter … but I see increasingly leaders within businesses who are thinking to the next generation. So it's the push and pull between the quarter and the generation, but I'm seeing more progress across companies in shifting to long-term solutions because of material scarcity, of climate concerns."
  • Magdi Azer, REMADE Institute CTO: "We have 167 members, so they don't all speak the same language around ESG, so we find the circular economy as a good way to describe it because whether you're a remanufacturer who is trying to increase the amount of material you remanufacture or you're a recycler, the way we've structured ourselves allows us to speak the language of whatever entity we're working with."
  • Tim Weiss, Optera CEO and co-founder: "I don't have a lot of faith in consumer behavior overall, because you have to convince people to spend money on things that are morality questions and values questions and typically people don't have a great track record there. We're doing a lot of business with large manufacturers across the world and they're all trying to step up to respond to customer pressure, and that is a market signal. They're saying, we're a partner for you long term as we transition away from fossil fuels."
  • Lisa Hendrickson, S&P Global head of North American corporates: "So when we look at sustainability and speaking those messages, it is a purely economic conversation called there is competition for materials, more competition than ever. There is a geopolitical shifting world … I never imagined that we would be seeing this instability, and that the power structure of the world would be shifting. That changes supply chains. We're seeing nearshoring, friendshoring, all of this reorientation around what it is. It's an excellent time to bring in circular economy."
  • Chris Jahn, American Chemistry Council president and CEO: "As we look at policy that impacts this space, we need to make sure that there's an incentive for all of us to do the right thing."

Thank you to the American Chemistry Council for sponsoring this event.

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